Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 7, Vol. 1, Autumnal Equinox 2004
Herakles in the West, a Peregrination
b y Frater L.

The ancient way from the plains of northern Italy to Spain, via the Montgenèvre Pass and the Durance Valley, crossing the Rhône at Arles and thence onward by the plain of Languedoc and the Perthus Pass was known to the Romans as the Via Domitia, after the general L. Domitius Ahenobarbus (Red-Beard) who constructed it in the first century BC as the vital link between the possessions of Rome in those two regions. However this route had been used, and “mythified”, for centuries before, following the trail of the demi-god Herakles along its course. This “Heraklean Way” will serve as our guide as we follow the superficially well-known story, surprisingly profound in esoteric lore and sacred geography, of Herakles’ Labours and Travels in the West, from Morocco and the Fortunate Islands to Gaul and Italy.

The Figure of Herakles
Theogamic son of Zeus and Alcmena, wife of the King of Tiryns and descendant of Perseus, this Hero mastered unhandily his cosmic influx, and suffered frequently from bouts of excessive use of his strength. Further, and in even greater part than the Ancient Giants, he had direct telluric influence ; causing earthquakes, rupture of isthmi, underwater volcanic eruptions, especially in the West, as we shall see. Through his cosmic father, Zeus, he had the gift of the Oracle ; he could “call” his Father in case of difficulty, and receive telepathic aid. This faculty is even more developed in his incarnation as Ogmios, the Celtic “Herakles” ; he is credited with the invention of writing, Ogham, and is one of the Tuatha de Danaan, the “Tribe of Dana the Goddess”. Herakles was the “Champion of the Gods ”, in their war against the Giants, and he led the Tribes of Men in the final assault, traditionally placed to the West, in Atlantis. However, most scholars are agreed that there are in fact at least two “Herakles”, thus a generic term ; a Greek one, and, more nearly concerning our present journey, a Phoenician one, Melkarth, whose adventures take place in this West of which the Greeks had no knowledge until the foundation of Massilia in the 7th century BC.

Indeed, the atmosphere and landscapes of the Travels, notably to the West, seem unreal, nightmarish, as if they were the result of some apocalyptic struggle. Some say that the phosphor which protected the land of Khem in this time produced mutations and aberrations in the remaining remnant of the giants, and in some of the Tribes of Men. Thus the Labours of Herakles are to be seen as a mission of cleansing this post-apocalyptic universe. The Lion of Nemea, the giant Boar of Erymanthos, the pterodactyls of the Stymphalic Lake, the Hydra of Lerna, the sacred Bull of Minos gone mad, the Horses of Diomedes, all these are become devourers of the flesh of Men ; further, the portals of the underworld are open, and wraiths, dead shadows, flood forth into the World, transmitting their “leprosy”.

The worst contaminated zones lie westwards from Khem. The Straits of Gibraltar (Fretum Herculanaeum), on the way to the Hesperides, and not yet sundered, are guarded by the giant Anteus, one of the many sons of Poseidon ; to defeat him, Herakles lifts him from the ground, thus cutting him from the source of his telluric energy via the foot chakram. Anteus’ tomb is still indicated on the Charf, a hill to the west of Tanja-Balla, or Old Tangiers, the town founded by his wife, Tingis (the White), a daughter of Atlas. Further west, are the Grottos of Herakles, where he is said to have stayed before and after the combat.

Gaining entry to the Chamber of Horrors of the ancient Atlantis (the Kingdom of Poseidon), it is Herakles’ initiation into the Mysteries of Eleusis which preserves him from the “poisons of death” typified by the Apple of the other Daughters of Atlas, the Hesperides, Hesperethousa (the Black), Erytheia (the Red), and Aiglea (the White), al-chemickal daughters of the night possessed by a fruit talisman still qualified today as “forbidden”…. “giver of knowledge” ; Ogmios, again…

With the coming of the Hero Herakles, the Gods had their revenge of the Giants ; but some Tribes of Men still clung to their remnants, as the example of the Goliath of the Philistines shows, and some lingered on in isolated parts, such as the Cyclops of Sicily ; the final end of their history comes with Prometheus, as we shall see. Let us examine the particular Labours of Herakles in the West.

The Cattle of Geryon
To accomplish his tenth labour, Eurystheus ordered the hero to bring him the cattle of the monster Geryon. Geryon was the son of Chrysaor, sprung from the body of the Gorgon Medusa after Perseus beheaded her, and Callirrhoe, who was the daughter of two Titans, Oceanus and Tethys. With such distinguished lineage, it is no surprise that Geryon himself was quite unique. It seems that he had three heads and three sets of legs all joined at the waist.

Geryon lived on an island called Erythia (Red Land), which was near the boundary of Europe and Libya. It was called Gadira by the Phoenicians, now Cadiz. According to Pliny, the name is derived from a Punic word gadir, meaning “hedge.” The same word agadir is still used in the south of Morocco in the sense of “fortified house,” and many places in that country bear the name. Amongst them the port of Agadir is the best known. Gadira was the chief port of Tartessos, or the Tarshish which appears in Scripture as a celebrated emporium, rich in iron, tin, lead, silver, and other commodities. There was a temple of the Phoenician Melkarth at Tartessus, whose worship was also spread amongst the neighbouring Iberians, the Turduli and Turdetani, the most civilised and polished of all the Iberian tribes. They cultivated the sciences; they had their poets and historians, and a code of written laws, drawn up in a metrical form – another link to the figure of Ogmios, the Celtic Herakles. The vast commerce of Tartessus raised it to a great pitch of prosperity. It traded not only with the mother country, but also with Africa and the distant Cassiterides, for (red) tin, the great economic pivot of this time, and which the foundation of Massilia was destined to divert, via the overland route from Burdigala (Bordeaux) to rejoin the Heraklean Way at Narbo (Narbonne).

On this red island of Erythia, Geryon kept a herd of red cattle guarded by Cerberus's brother, Orthus, a two-headed hound, and the herdsman Eurytion. Herakles set off for Erythia, encountering and killing many wild beasts along the way, and he came to the place where Libya met Europe. Here, he raised two mountains, one in Europe and one in Libya, to commemorate his extensive journey, and which became known as the Gates or Pillars of Hercules. The strait he made when he broke the mountains apart is now called the Strait of Gibraltar, between Spain and Morocco, the gateway from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, first reconnoitred by the Phoenician Melkarth. Usual opinion identifies the mountains with the rock of Calpe (Gibraltar) and the rock of Abyla (Ceuta) on the northern and southern sides of the straits. It has been calculated that the amount of water flowing into the Mediterranean Sea has to be complemented by an enormous amount entering from the Atlantic ; if the Straits were closed today, the Mediterranean would lower its level by about two hundred metres. Is the division of the mountain by Herakles an echo of the cataclysm geologically dated to about 1100 BC ?

Sailing in a goblet which the Sun gave him in admiration of his insolence in raising his bow at it, (the Barque of ?) he reached the island of Erythia. Orthus, the two-headed dog, attacked him, and was clubbed. Eurytion followed, with the same result. Just as Herakles was escaping with the cattle, Geryon attacked him and was shot dead with arrows.

The stealing of the cattle was not such a difficult task, compared to the trouble he had bringing the herd back East. In Provence, Albion and Liguros, another two sons of Poseidon, the god of the sea, tried to steal the cattle. For a time he repelled them with his bow, but his supply of arrows running short he was reduced to great straits; for the ground, being soft earth, afforded no stones to be used as missiles. So he prayed to his father Zeus, and the god rained down stones from the sky; and by picking them up and hurling them at his foes, the hero was able to turn the tables on them. The place where this adventure took place was a plain between Marseilles and the Rhône, called the Stony Plain on account of the vast quantity of stones, about as large as a man's hand, scattered thickly over it. The Stony Plain is now called the Plaine de la Crau. It forms a wide level area, extending for many square miles, which is covered with round rolled stones from the size of a pebble to that of a man's head. These are supposed to have been brought down from the Alps by the Durance at some early period, when this plain was submerged and formed the bed of what was then a bay of the Mediterranean at the mouth of that river and the Rhone.

In response to Posidonios’ objection that it would have been better for Zeus to rain down the stones on top of the Ligurians rather than require Herakles to throw them, Strabo says with equally acute logic that it would also have been better for Paris, the seducer of Helena, to have been punished on his way from Troy to Sparta instead of afterwards.

The Apple of the Daughters of the Hesperides
For his Eleventh Labour, Eurystheus commanded Herakles to bring golden apples which belonged to Zeus, his father. These apples were kept in a garden at the western edge of the world, and they were guarded not only by a hundred-headed dragon, named Ladon, but also by the Hesperides, daughters of Atlas, the Titan who held the sky and the earth upon his shoulders.

Herakles’ first problem was that he didn't know where the garden was. He journeyed through Libya and Asia, having adventures along the way. He continued on to Illyria, where he seized the sea-god Nereus, who knew the garden's secret location. Nereus transformed himself into all kinds of wraithlike shapes, trying to escape, but Herakles held tight and didn't release Nereus until he got the information he needed.

Continuing on his quest, he was stopped by Antaeus, another son of the sea god, Poseidon, who also challenged him to fight. Herakles defeated him in a wrestling match, lifting him off the ground and crushing him, because when Antaeus touched the earth he became stronger. After that, he met up with Busiris, another of Poseidon's sons, was captured, and was led to an altar to be a human sacrifice. But he escaped, killing Busiris, and journeyed on. Busiris, a legendary ruler of Khem, was the “lover” of the Daughters, having “seen” them in dream.

He came to the rock on Mount Caucasus where Prometheus, brother of Atlas, was chained. Prometheus (Egyptian : per’âa methou, “Prince of Death”) stole the secret of fire from the Gods, as a last desperate throw to regain the initial force of the Titans before their mutation during the Apocalypse. He was sentenced by Zeus to a horrible fate. He was bound to the mountain, and every day a monstrous eagle came and ate his liver, pecking away at Prometheus' tortured body. This would correspond to the mutated Titan no longer being able to support the Cosmic Fire. After the eagle flew off, Prometheus' liver grew back, and the next day he had to endure the eagle's painful visit all over again. This went on for thirty years, until Herakles arrived and killed the eagle.

In gratitude, Prometheus told him the secret to getting the apples. He would have to send Atlas after them, instead of going himself. Atlas hated holding up the sky and the earth so much that he would agree to the task of fetching the apples, in order to pass his burden over. Everything happened as Prometheus had predicted, and Atlas went to get the apples while Herakles was stuck in Atlas's place, with the weight of the world literally on his shoulders.

When Atlas returned with the apples, he told Herakles he would take them to Eurystheus himself, and asked him to stay there and hold the heavy load for the rest of time. Herakles slyly agreed, but asked Atlas whether he could take it back again, just for a moment, while the hero put some soft padding on his shoulders to help him bear the weight of the sky and the earth. Atlas put the apples on the ground, and lifted the burden onto his own shoulders. And so Herakles picked up the apples and quickly ran off, carrying them back, uneventfully, to Eurystheus.

The Greek word for apples (mela) is used metaphorically for "woman’s breast", and the Greek word for brassiere is melouchos (‘apple-holder’). This is why golden apples are always associated in Greek myth with weddings (e.g., Zeus and Hera, Peleus and Thetis, Atalanta and Melanion), and why the earliest state of mythic humanity is so often a paradise of total bliss and contentment.

Herakles had lots of children during his life on earth, and it has been said that most of them left Greece and moved to a far west island of the Mediterranean, Sardinia.

The Ligurians
Liguria, in its original sense, as the land of the Ligurians, comprised a much more extensive tract than either the Roman district of that name, or the Italian province existing today. All the earliest authors are agreed in representing the tribes that occupied the western slopes of the Maritime Alps and the region which extends from thence to the sea at Massilia, and. as far as the mouths of the Rhone, as of Ligurian and not Gaulish origin. Thus Aeschylus represents Herakles as contending with the Ligurians on the stony plains near the mouths of the Rhone, Herodotus speaks of Ligurians inhabiting the country above Massilia, while Seylax also assigns to the Ligurians the coast of the Mediterranean sea as far as the mouths of the Rhone; while from that river to Emporium in Spain, he tells us that the Ligurians and Iberians were intermingled. Thucydides also speaks of the Ligurians having expelled the Sicanians, an Iberian tribe from the banks of the river Sicanus, in Iberia, to Sicily, thus pointing to a still wider extension of their power. But while the Ligurian settlements to the W. of the Rhone are more obscure and uncertain, the tribes that extended from that river to the Maritime Alps and the confines of Italy are assigned on good authority to the Ligurian race. On their eastern frontier, also, the Ligurians were at one time more widely spread than the limits above described. Lycophron represents them as stretching far down the coast of Etruria, before the arrival of the Tyrrhenians, who wrested from them by force of arms the site of Pisae and other cities. The population of Corsica also is ascribed by Seneca to a Ligurian stock. On the N. of the Apennines, in like manner, it is probable that the Ligurians were far more widely spread, before the settlement of the Gauls, who occupied the fertile plains and drove them back into the mountains. Thus the Taurini, who certainly dwelt on both banks of the Padus, were unquestionably a Ligurian tribe; and there seems much reason to assign the same origin to the Aostan Salassi also.

In regard to the national affinities or origin of the Ligurians themselves, we know only that they were not either Iberians or Gauls. Strabo tells us distinctly that they were of a different race from the Gauls or Celts who inhabited the rest of the Alps, though they resembled them in their mode of life. And the same thing is implied in the marked distinction uniformly observed by Livy and other Roman writers between the Gaulish and Ligurian tribes, notwithstanding their close geographical proximity, and their frequent alliance in war. But all ancient authors appear to have agreed in regarding them as one of the most ancient nations of the West ; and on this account Philistus represented the Siculi as a Ligurian tribe, while other authors assigned the same origin to the Aborigines of Latium.

The Ligurians seem also from an early period to have been ready to engage as mercenary troops in the service of more civilised nations; and we find Ligurian auxiliaries already mentioned in the great army of the Carthaginian general Hamilcar, in B.C. 480. The Greek despots in Sicily continued to recruit their mercenary forces from the same quarter as late as the time of Agathocles. The Greeks of Massilia founded colonies along the coast of Liguria as far as Nicaea and the Portus Herculis Monoeci, but evidently never established their power far inland, and the mountain tribes of the Ligurians were left in the enjoyment of undisturbed independence.

Camille Jullian, a celebrated French specialist of this period, says even that prior to the arrival of the Celts the Ligures reached unto the “great gulf of the Atlantic”, where now lies the Landes area of Aquitaine but which was long ago a salt marsh ; d’Arbois de Jubainville, a French 19th century historian, situated them also in “Alebion”, that is the British Isles – see the names of the two sons of Poseidon who fought Herakles during the return from Erytheia. Jullian accredits them with the raising of the megaliths, and dolmens ; workers of stone…and that they were essentially marine travellers, and great lovers of the homeland. Does this not suggest they are aboriginal ? In any case, we can associate the following traits to them : stone-workers and woodworkers (the lake-settlements of the Alps), cultivators (the laying-out of the stone terrasses and irrigation canals in the Mediterranean areas of Gaul and Italy is commonly considered to be of their impulsion), herders (the stealing of the Erythraic cattle), mariners (piracy, exploration of the Atlantic sea routes), do not these things remind us of the tradiitonal description of the Tuatha de Danaan, who preceded the Sons of Mil (the Celts) into Ireland ?

From the foregoing, it can be seen that the accounts of a “Herakles” in the Lands of the West hold a common theme : a mission of, on the one hand, “cleansing” ; and on the other, of searching for, and bringing back, the “new”, be it writing, justice, or techniques. That these events left a great impression on the local aboriginals is evident, when one surveys the repartition of later Temples and dedications to Herakles or his equivalents, Melkarth and Ogmios. Symbol of a veritable “New Age”, he brings down the Older Order, clears up the wreckage, and introduces into the “Oikomenos” the Fruits of the West, thus curiously echoing what we now know today, that the megaliths originated in the West not the East, and this centuries before the Pyramids. The idea that the West contains the true happiness, the Elysian Fields, may not just be a reflection of the images seen in the setting sun, but a faithful echo of the Labours the “Herakles” accomplished at the dawn of Mediterranean history.


Select Bibliography
with emphasis on the West

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Herakles in Literature / Myth - Books and Monographs:
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Herakles in Literature / Myth - Articles:
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Herakles in Tragedy/Theatre:
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Herakles in Cult :
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